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Hackers claim to have compromised a computer at the National Security Agency in Ft. Meade, Maryland. But their target was the least secretive organization imaginable within the massive intelligence agency: the public affairs office.

And instead of scoring a cache of highly-classified documents about the NSA's global surveillance work, the purported hackers mostly just obtained a few biographies of agency personnel, and a handful of private, but routine, correspondences between NSA spokespersons and media outlets, including CNN and Forbes.

The letters arrived at SecurityFocus Thursday morning as attachments to a short e-mail message listing the Internet IP and e-mail addresses for the agency's public affairs office, and the message "Please find attached some documents from Don and Trisha Weber, NSA."

A NSA spokesperson confirmed that Don Weber works in the office, but otherwise refused to comment.

In addition to the press material, the documents included a short NSA phone directory, and a four-page reference guide on handling outgoing e-mail problems, with advice on how to respond if an e-mail is rejected for foul language, or for user errors like attempting "to send [a] SECRET message from a SECRET to Unclassified" destination. A more recent version of the same document is available publicly from a Defense Department website.

Journalist and NSA expert James Bamford says the apparent breach probably isn't a threat to national security.

"I haven't heard of an NSA computer being hacked into before," says Bamford. "I certainly don't think that it's acceptable that even unclassified computers can be hacked into there, but it doesn't sound like they've gotten beyond the non-classified computers in public affairs."

An e-mail message sent to the hackers' address in Switzerland was not immediately answered Thursday. The group signed their message "Nescafé Open Up", the slogan of an ad campaign for flavored instant-coffee.

The hackers' motives aren't clear, but may be related to the United States' military action against Iraq, which, like past conflicts, has already spurred a rash of protest website defacements. The hackers' e-mail included a distribution list of approximately 500 e-mail addresses, most of which belong to the U.S. military.

© SecurityFocus Online

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